Projects That Pay: Making Memories: Video Yearbooks for Fun and Profit

Whether for fun or profit, capturing school events on video can be rewarding.

Pep Rallies. Football Games. Prom Night. Graduation. Ever wish you could be paid to relive your high school days? You can. In school yards around the country, videographers can capture the memories of a lifetime and make a little cash on the side with video yearbooks.

The video yearbook business is a profitable industry these days. Parents and school kids, accustomed to watching life on the screen, buy up copies of custom-made videotapes that contain the images and sounds of the previous school year. As memorable as a bound yearbook, video yearbooks are often cheaper to produce and offer the sights and sounds, bloopers and emotions that still photos rarely capture. And viewing a video is less time-consuming than reading the traditional yearbook with class photos, senior quotes and endless lists of award-winners and sports scores. Video yearbooks offer the amateur videographer an excellent opportunity to hone shooting and editing skills, as well as to earn a few extra dollars doing something fun.

Nostalgia in Motion

International Multimedia Yearbooks in Nashville is a professional video yearbook company that produces tapes for as many as 1000 schools each year. With a cadre of franchises and videographers in cities around the country, these companies contract with each school to videotape certain major school events, daily activities, interviews and classroom antics. They edit them together MTV style, adding a popular music soundtrack, customized graphics and memorable national news events. The final videotapes are pre-sold along with a print yearbook for between $50 and $80 per set.

John Trotter, a Multimedia Yearbooks franchise owner and videographer in New Orleans, says that while video yearbooks try not to compete with the traditional printed memory book, there are distinct advantages to video for the students. “As opposed to the traditional yearbook, which is 80 to 90 percent black and white, they get all color, sound and action. They can hear Johnny do his famous jokes or listen to the lines of a play.”

Although kids still like to do the ritual autographing of the yearbook, the technology of video is just as important to them. “Kids are into hi-tech and a video yearbook is personalized hi-tech,” says Trotter. “My camera can take them behind the scenes and kids can see inside the locker room at half-time or back stage during the musical. They can see and hear themselves and their friends up on the screen, and it makes them feel really special and important.”

Aside from the financial benefit to the business, Trotter enjoys the people, as well. “I enjoy working with kids. It keeps me young. I have to keep up with the teenage trends, answer their questions. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun one. And besides, it takes me back to my high school days. I missed my high school prom, but now I can visit one every year!”

Another distinct benefit of video yearbooks is that the schools can use them for public relations and recruitment. International Multimedia Yearbook produces a free six-minute video from the yearbook footage that the schools can give to prospective students or use to support grant applications or entice companies to support the school. This bonus has proved a big selling point to schools, as they get an excellent promotional tool for nothing.

For Fun and Profit

There are a number of small video production companies that produce video yearbooks in addition to their regular money-makers. But even if you aren’t a professional videographer, you can take advantage of the video yearbook craze in schools. Parents, grandparents, students and anyone with a camcorder and free time can produce a video yearbook.

Some non-professionals work with only one school each year, while others use their camcorders and home edit systems to produce two or three video yearbooks annually, pulling in a substantial profit. With a small investment of time, a video yearbook producer can sell over 200 tapes at each school, depending on the size of the school, and at $15 each, minus the duplication fee of $5, that’s a fair sum of money. Many non-professionals also offer to sell tapes of graduation or the prom as separate events, further increasing their profit margin.

In addition to making money, a local videographer gains the practical experience of shooting and editing, as well as a feeling of community involvement. “It makes me feel like I’m giving back to my community in some small way,” says Davis Held, an access television volunteer and retiree, who produces a video yearbook for his local high school. “Just knowing that the kids will always have that tape to remind them of their year makes me happy. I earn a little money, have a good time and actually learn a lot in the process.“

An innovative way to cash in on the video yearbook industry is to involve students. Many school video production classes use the video yearbook as a high-yield fundraiser for various projects and as a wonderful learning experience for kids, who participate in the planning, shooting, sales and editing. And schools that don’t have video classes are often more than happy to have a few students apprentice with a local videographer to produce a video yearbook.

Every year, I work with three students at my son’s school to produce a video yearbook. The kids meet with me early on to decide which events they will cover during the year. I give them basic instruction on how to shoot and edit, and using the school’s camcorder, the students gather material. When all the footage is shot, the kids meet at my studio twice a week after school to edit. The result is a high-selling, student-produced video yearbook that pays for my time, earns some extra classroom funds, gives students a valuable learning experience, and provides the school with an excellent recruitment resource.

Involving students in your video yearbook venture can make your business even more gratifying. Teaching kids the ins and outs of video production, asking their advice on important events to cover, and even letting them do some of the shooting and editing gives them a sense of pride and ownership in the final tape. (Not to mention the fact that they’re usually better salespeople.) Besides, many a high school yearbook photographer (the author included) has discovered a career path behind the lens at a school football game.

Starting Up

Getting started in the video yearbook business is relatively simple; all it takes is a few phone calls and a little organization. The format is adaptable to elementary and middle schools as well as universities, community colleges and even pre-schools. To begin, contact your local schools and explain that you are a videographer interested in providing a video yearbook for the school year. Tell them that you will shoot all major events, sports and arts, and that you will provide a final edited version for sale to the students, as well as complimentary copies for the school archives. Make sure to tell the schools that it will cost them nothing. (Remember, you make your money from the tape sales, less duplication cost.) Make an appointment to meet with school officials to show them an example of your work and explain how a video yearbook can benefit both the students and the school.

Once you have an agreement, get a copy of the school calendar and mark the dates of all major school events, like the first day of school, homecoming, ring ceremonies, graduation, etc. Then schedule a day when you can be at the school to shoot candid material of students in the lunchroom, in classes and in the hallways. Set a sales deadline and a completion date, and stick to them. Most video yearbook producers recommend that you pre-sell your tapes, so you know how much money you will make and how many tapes to copy. Be sure to make a few extra copies for kids who miss the deadline. Then, start shooting.

If you have time, you might try catching some smaller events at the schools you are shooting, like pep rallies, special guests, field trips or retreats. These events are often more memorable than the big ones and provide some of the funnier material. Humor is always welcome and emotionally touching moments and quotes are great crowd-pleasers. Remember that candids are always well-liked and make great transitional material between major events. Try some tilted angles and extreme close-ups for visual variety.

John Trotter suggests that yearbook videographers pay careful attention to the radio stations that teens like to select music for the style of the soundtrack, and also to make sure to gather any graphic materials, like the school logo or team insignia, to include in the final tape. If you are going to use copyrighted music or material, make sure you get permission from the appropriate licensing agency (usually ASCAP or BMI).

When editing video yearbooks, remember that kids like quick cuts and effects. Use your special effects generator and your mixer for wipes, slo-mo and other effects. To add a special touch to the final tape, try including personalized material like news clips or video signatures. Keep the final tape under 2 hours.

And while you’re out there on the football field or at the prom, remember that these video clips bear the memories of a lifetime for the kids you are taping: they will watch them again and again and even pull them out to show their kids. Think about what they would like to see and remember, and above all, have fun. It isn’t every day you get to be a kid again.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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